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Art 101

Art Collectors of Our Time: A Field Guide


Art Collectors of Our Time: A Field Guide
Collectors in their natural habitat: an art fair

In the cultivated wilds of the art world, one complex beast—omnivorous yet finicky, gentle-seeming yet quick to strike—sits at the center of the ecosystem: the collector. Often found at watering holes known as art fairs, where they feed on champagne and aesthetic goods (often shiny ones), these curious specimens of fascination come in many discrete breeds. Here, for those bold enough to venture into these creatures' habitat, is a field guide to art collectors.


ROLE MODEL:François Pinault, Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Eli Broad, Roman Abramovich, Dakis Joannou
MO: Buy blue-chip contemporary art in bulk, acquire a key component of the very apparatus of the art world (Christie's, MOCA's board), and become a weather-making force within art whose vast influence can only be be guessed at.
FAVORITE ARTISTS:Murakami, Warhol, Koons, Urs Fischer, Maurzio Cattelan
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: Not much—you'll probably never get close enough to overhear anything.


ROLE MODEL: Steven Cohen, Daniel Loeb, Pierre Lagrange
MO: Buy masterpieces by legendary artists that (it is hoped) establish them as upstanding members of high society, reliably break records at auction, have dealers competing with one another to eat out of their hand.
FAVORITE ARTISTS: Warhol, Richter, Picasso, Koons
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "Yeah, I bought that."


ROLE MODEL:Don & Mera Rubell, Michael & Susan Hort, Cosimo de' Medici
MO: Spend decades collecting and patronizing rising generations of artists, over which time they inculcate their children with a loving appreciation of art and a sense of mission for what essentially becomes the family business.
FAVORITE ARTISTS: Living artists they have gotten to know personally over time and who they want to welcome into the family, as it were.
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "We were one of the first to collect her work, in the 1990s, when she sold us a painting directly from her studio."


ROLE MODEL: Alice Walton, Mitchell P. Rales, Eugenio Lopez, Albert Barnes
MO: Amass a splendid collection ranging comprehensively across discrete categories of art, dedicate their efforts to creating a legacy that will outlive them, and erect a pyramid-like citadel of art and make it open to the public.
FAVORITE ARTISTS: Everyone of importance within a circumscribed chunk of art history.
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "Looks like we're going to have to add another wing. Again."


ROLE MODEL: Robert & Ethel Scull, Charles Saatchi, Stefan Simchowitz, Adam Sender
MO: Buy deep and extensive holdings of work by choice artists before they're famous, ideally making them famous in the process through energetic word-of-mouth marketing efforts, creating a sense of inevitably of the artist's impending stardom; then, when the moment arrives, sell their work off at auction, or privately, at a gigantic markup over the purchase price.
FAVORITE ARTISTS: Lucien Smith, Oscar Murillo, Tauba Auerbach… really anyone young, prolific, and hot.
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "You need money to pay your rent? Just let me buy 20 of your paintings."


ROLE MODEL:Leonardo DiCaprio, Alex Rodriguez, Kanye West, Brad Pitt, Jay Z, Diddy, Jennifer Aniston
MO: Find a trusted art advisor and gradually start popping up at select elite art events and auctions, turning heads and occasioning amazed whispers, and then keep public appearances to a minimum to maintain sense of buzzy drama. (Unfortunately, they often end up buying lesser work.)
FAVORITE ARTISTS:George Condo, Picasso, Nate Lowman, Basquiat
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "I've got Condos in my condo."


ROLE MODEL: The Vogels, Andy Stillpass, Marty Eisenberg, Anita Zabludowicz
MO: Find a young dealer who is putting together an extraordinary program, find a group of young artists who are making transformative and of-the-moment work, and spend lavishly (at least in relation to your income, in the case of the Vogels) to incorporate their art into the fabric of your everyday life—and in the process, give the artists the support necessary to launch their careers.
FAVORITE ARTISTS: Whoever other people have only begin to hear of, if they've heard of them at all.
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "Last weekend we had so-and-so over at our house and she painted the most beautiful mural in little Emily's room."


ROLE MODEL: The vulture
MO: Wait until a gallery or artist is struggling and then offer a cut-rate price for a wealth of art—or, at an art fair, wait until the last day and trawl the aisles to see what deals can be struck on unsold work so the dealers don't have to cart it back home.
FAVORITE ARTISTS: The overlooked, the forgotten, and the out-of-favor.
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "It's still available? Can you do a 35 percent discount?"


ROLE MODEL: Their cool friend who has a few distinctive, well-chosen artworks hanging around their house, but doesn't make a big thing out of it.
MO: Buy one or two larger artworks a year from emerging galleries or fairs like Liste and NADA (or benefit auctions), collect smaller works on paper by artist friends, and participate in the swirl of shows and art events as part of their social calendar.
CAN BE OVERHEARD SAYING: "I just found the perfect painting for the bedroom, and the gallerist is letting us pay in installments."


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